Page One: Inside the New York Times (R, 2011, Magnolia)
The New York Times made headlines over the weekend with reports of more rebalancing and position reductions, so just in case “Page One” wasn’t one of the year’s timeliest documentaries, that little tap should clinch it. As the title implies, “One” takes us inside the bowels of the Times’ newsroom, where we watch a culture of newspaper people wrestle with Wikileaks, a suspicious “official” announcement of the Iraq War’s conclusion, and the shameful corporate crash and burn that torched numerous colleagues at the Tribune Co. If you have a nose for the stories behind those stories, you need not be told that the movie, while free of narration or editorial intrusion, doubles as a referendum on the riddle of monetizing and saving an institution that for a generation has been as free as the air we breathe (and taken about as much for granted). “One” darts between observing the newsroom, profiling its faces and letting them air their views on their industry’s wildly uncertain future, and it results in a movie that scrambles to cover lots of ground in little time. But what “One” sometimes lacks in terms of graceful transitions, it redeems in the field of time management. Few insubstantial moments intervene between the fast start and abrupt finish, and the film’s insights, energy and passion are both eloquent and furious. If you distrust the media, this won’t shake your biases. But if you value a free press that has the resources needed to tell the story right, “One” offers assurance that regardless of how the business shakes out, there are capable people on the ground fighting relentlessly to carry it through.
Extras: Three short features on the state of the industry, a feature on journalists’ reaction to “Page One,” deleted scenes, filmmakers/featured people Q&A, feature with Baghdad Bureau Chief Tim Arango (who is featured in the movie) and photojournalist João Silva, who lost both legs while on assignment in Iraq.
Aftershock (NR, 2010, China Lion/New Video)
In case you aren’t familiar, the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that kicks off “Aftershock” is a real disaster, and one responsible for claiming 250,000 lives. “Aftershock’s” dramatization of the quake is visually incredible, but lest you assume the movie mines tragedy for eye candy, know also that it’s brief and takes place pretty early in a runtime that spans 136 minutes. The bulk of “Aftershock’s” storyline zooms in on a single family and hinges on what happens after a mother (Fan Xu) is forced to make the call on a rescue that can save only one of her two trapped children. If that sounds needlessly sensational as well, rest assured (again) that the depiction of her choice’s consequences — set over a 32-year period that follows the lives of all involved — is anything but tacky. To the contrary, “Aftershock” develops and treats its characters with lavish care, and while it doubtlessly could shave off a minute here or there, it’s hard to accuse the movie of wasting the time it affords everyone involved. A tribute to the quake’s victims closes the movie, and while there’s always a discord between fiction and the real-life tragedy it strives to remember, this is an especially tasteful attempt that neither sacrifices nor bows to entertainment value in the process. In Mandarin with English subtitles. No extras.
The Captains (NR, 2011, Entertainment One)
“The Captains” could have been so many unfortunate things — dry, self-indulgent, detached, insular. Instead, William Shatner’s behind-the-curtain look at the actors who shared the “Star Trek” Starship Captain’s chair (Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, Chris Pine) is the complete opposite of every word listed above. Shatner takes “The Captains'” reins in front of as well as behind the camera, and the adventure brings him face to face with all five fellow captains, who seem as genuinely tickled to discuss their bond with him as he is with them. The freewheeling conversations naturally touch on the distinctions that come with being part of “Star Trek” lore. But “The Captains” has few rules beyond that, and the talks regularly bounce between serious, heartfelt and funny as Shatner and friends discuss personal sacrifice, the drive to act, death, music and whatever else comes up. Every actor gets his or her due, but ultimately, it may be Shatner himself who opens up most. His once-reluctant, now-enthusiastic embrace of Captain Kirk comes out literally during conversation, but his affinity for “Star Trek,” its fans and the way the phenomenon changed his life appears most potently in the questions he asks and the hilariously earnest way he interacts with fans between stops. Your enjoyment of the movie likely will be enhanced by an affinity of your own for the franchise, but it cannot be emphasized enough how optional that is. In this celebration of life and everything in it, “Star Trek” merely is a means to an end.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Lucky (R, 2011, Phase 4 Films)
Say this for Lucy (Ari Graynor): She may be shallow by pursuing and eventually marrying longtime admirer Ben (Colin Hanks) only after he won the lottery, but she sure takes it in stride upon discovering her new husband is a murderer. In fact, when she discovers Ben is a serial killer responsible for a string of recent killings, her second reaction (following disappointment, of course) is to help keep the bodies hidden. None of this is a spoiler if you come into contact with “Lucky’s” box or trailer, and even if you’re hardcore about not having anything whatsoever spoiled for you, the best parts of this tale remain preserved for your discovery. “Lucky” marches to a seriously weird beat — an implausible movie that recognizes its own implausibility, recognizes that you see it too, and revels in the farcically messy bed it’s made while inviting you to revel in its revelry. If you can play along, it’ll pay you back with one of the more stupidly enjoyable serial killer stories you’ve ever seen (if, of course, you’ve ever seen one before). You might also come away with a new name for your favorite actresses list. Graynor plays her character’s absurd mannerisms to the nines, and “Lucky” would be vastly inferior without her energy.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature, music video.
Within (NR, 2009, Bigfoot Entertainment)
Take everything about “Within” and recast its two main characters — one (Mia Ford as Rachel) who can see the evil in others, the other (Sammi Hanratty as Michelle) a carrier of said evil — as adults, and the movie would be ripe for the picking. The path the story takes is a bit muddy — sometimes on a collision course with predictability, other times dragging its feet and occasionally repeating itself. The run-up to the ending tries to do a little too much, a few loose ends remain loose after the credits, and even on the condition that it’s a TV movie, the shoestringiness of the budget can mostly but not completely be ignored. But Rachel and Michelle aren’t adults: They’re little kids, one or both of them is in practically every scene, and their ability to personify the agony, cruelty and familial tragedy that has overwhelmingly blighted their respective childhoods is haunting enough to make the aforementioned flaws feel insignificant. “Within” doesn’t dabble in gore or jump scares, but instead engenders some seriously acute empathy that lends a deeply unsettling air to nearly every scene. For all it could do better, it does that ridiculously well, and it’s a talent — and, by extension, a feeling — depressingly few horror movies even recognize, much less utilize.
Extras: Deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Bad Teacher (R, 2011, Sony Pictures)
There’s a trace of a great scene roughly 30 minutes into “Bad Teacher” when disinterested teacher Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) tells the class kiss-up to “stop dressing like you’re running for congress.” She replies she’d rather be president, to which Elizabeth asks if that’s what she wants or if that’s what her parents want. The student shrugs, and with that little shrug, “Teacher” flashes the talent it needs to be a story about a reluctant, subversive teacher who becomes the best thing that ever happened to her students. Unfortunately, the shrug is the peak of a molehill instead of the foot of a mountain. Like Elizabeth herself, “Teacher” would rather skate by doing the bare minimum, mercilessly mauling us with a gag about Elizabeth being a failed gold-digger whose only drive is to find her way out of the classroom and back into another rich man’s heart. The joke is flat once and outright obnoxious many attempts later, and when the half-baked story goes for its predictable lap of redemption, the whole thing is so pointless and contrived that you might contemplate stopping the movie and just playing out the last act in your head. Consider following that thought: It takes less time, requires little effort, and there’s a decent chance it’ll be funnier than what “Teacher” came up with. Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake and Lucy Punch also star.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, outtakes.
Turkey Bowl (NR, 2011, Tribeca Film/New Video)
“Turkey Bowl” finds 10 (mostly) old friends convening for an annual touch football game that doubles as a chance to kick back and reconnect. But if this is their idea of kicking back and reconnecting, how in the world do they survive the other 364 days in between? “Bowl” has a point to make, and if you can relate to the plight of trying to keep friendships intact when being a grown-up makes that so much trickier than it used to be, it makes a point you probably can understand. Unfortunately, it only truly does so with about seven minutes left, and only after spending nearly an hour engaging in the most miserably surly touch football game perhaps ever played. During the course of what should be a meaningless game (and, for us on the outside, most definitely is meaningless), old friends scream at each other about missed routes, one player viciously chews out her spouse for talking down to her, and some of the regulars trade jabs with the newer players — sometimes because they play poorly, sometimes because they play a little too well. Does an hour of crabby strangers on a beautiful day intrigue you? Because that’s what you get. At 64 minutes, “Bowl” is awfully short, but it’s not hard to see why, and if these friends get along so poorly that they disband the instant the game ends, what’s the point of anyone, viewer included, showing up in the first place?
Extra: Deleted scenes.
— “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (PG-13, 2011, Disney): A screener wasn’t available by cutoff time for review purposes, but at this point you likely already know if you’re hungry for 136 more minutes of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) or if you’ve had enough. (Ian McShane joins the cast, if that helps tip you off the fence.) Extras in the Blu-ray/DVD combo edition include director/producer commentary, iPad/PC “Second Screen” content, bloopers and Lego animated shorts featuring Lego-fied versions of the “Pirates” characters.
— “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition” (G, 1971, Warner Bros.): Warner Bros. has produced some gorgeous anniversary sets this fall, and while review product wasn’t available for up-close examination, the 40th anniversary edition of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” keep the quality bar high. In addition to DVD and Blu-ray versions of the restored original film, the set includes a new director interview and a new feature on Roald Dahl. Tangible bonuses include a Wonka Bar-shaped pencil tin and a 144-page book containing photographs and behind-the-scenes anecdotes. A single-disc DVD reissue also is available.